Smalling: We've laid a marker with win over City
Chris Smalling believes Manchester United laid down a marker for this season and beyond by preventing Manchester City sealing the Premier League with an astonishing comeback win.
Pep Guardiola's men had the champagne on ice on Saturday after Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan goals in a dominant first half put City on course for the victory that would see them seal the title.
Few could have imagined any other outcome given how shambolic United looked, yet Jose Mourinho's men dug deep to produce a comeback as remarkable as it looked unlikely.
Paul Pogba ignored the background noise to grab a quickfire double, before centre-back Smalling volleyed United to a 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium that will live long in the memory.
"I think there's no better feeling than to score that winner in a derby and obviously make up for the first goal, which was my mistake," the defender said.
"But when you get a chance like that to hopefully make amends and contribute a winner is a great feeling."
Not only did victory deny City what captain Kompany had called a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to clinch the title at home to their rivals but gave second-placed United a shot in the arm.
Now four points clear of nearest rivals Liverpool with a game in hand, the second half was an impressive show of strength that suggested they can narrow the gap to City next term - and beat Tottenham in this month's FA Cup semi-final.
"It's about making sure that we can stand up tall against our rivals," Smalling said, having also beaten Liverpool and Chelsea over the last six weeks.
"This is definitely sending out a marker for the rest of the season and beyond. We've got some great objectives.
"Making sure we own that second spot and the fact that obviously we've got Tottenham in a semi-final is a great reward in that competition. We need to make sure we get to that final."
That FA Cup semi-final will be like a home match for Tottenham, who easily beat Mourinho's Red Devils 2-0 when the sides met at Wembley in January.
It was a first Premier League appearance for United to forget for Alexis Sanchez, who has struggled to live up to the billing since his January arrival.
Pogba is another to have struggled for form since the turn of the year, but both impressed after a meek first half at the Etihad Stadium. "It's fantastic when those sort of players are on that form," Smalling added.
"Alexis is always looking to try and thread those balls, and Paul's runs are a danger to any team. It's good that they've been able to link in together. It's a great, great turnaround."